46: Finding Me at Fifty

46: Finding Me at Fifty

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Finding Me at Fifty

When we cannot bear to be alone, it means we do not properly value the only companion we will have from birth to death — ourselves.

~Eda LeShan

You can go either way when you turn fifty — you can slide downhill or you can look at it as the halfway mark and a chance to shake things up a bit. I chose to shake things up. To anybody who would listen, I boasted, “I have spent the first half of my life learning how to live my life, and now I am going to live it.”

My birthday was in early March. I threw a small party for close friends and family. I wanted a meaningful, reflective kind of gathering. My much younger boyfriend mostly distanced himself from the affair. We had been together for a couple of years, but problems were creeping in and the age difference was becoming an issue.

A month later, over a cup of coffee on an ordinary day, out of nowhere I blurted, “This relationship isn’t working for me anymore.” I wasn’t fully aware I felt this, but as soon as I said the words, I knew they were right.

There was silence, while we both absorbed what I had said.

“I guess I will go then,” my boyfriend said. He grabbed his guitar, a few records, his jacket, and he walked out the door. No protest, no asking what was wrong, nothing. He just left.

I cried. I couldn’t stop. It was out-loud crying, the kind of wailing I never did. I don’t remember the rest of the day. The following day he came over and found me in the bathroom crying. He looked alarmed and hovered. He offered to stay. I sent him on his way again.

Nothing in my world made sense. My crying confused me. Ours hadn’t been a big love affair. We were good friends. Our relationship had been easy and we always knew it was meant to be short-lived. I shouldn’t have been this thrown by our breakup. I stayed home from work for a week. I saw a counselor and went for a massage.

I came to understand I was crying for the loss of the relationship before this one. I’d joined Al-Anon to learn to cope with that partner’s alcoholism, after ten years of a roller coaster existence where I enabled and endured and in the end had no sense of who I was or what I felt.

And I was crying for the marriage to the father of my children before that relationship. I’d buried my feelings and spent the final few years like a zombie, afraid to move a single foot the wrong way.

I had gone from my childhood home to marriage, to divorce with kids, to another relationship, and finally to this young man. Through it all, I was proud of my calm and restraint. I never shed a tear.

This crying was necessary, finally. I was crying for all the lost men, for all the lost dreams, and most of all, I was crying for my loss of self.

I went back to work to a job I had grown to despise, the atmosphere made toxic by the threat of cutbacks. I had never lived alone, and I hated coming home to any empty house. Depression set in. This was not part of my plan. Where was my bravado? Having a breakdown was not how I expected to reinvent myself at fifty.

I had struggled with postpartum depression with the birth of each child, and I’d learned some strategies that I put into use now. I forced myself to leave the house, to commit to doing something on the days I felt good.

As a child I used to count in a magical sequence to give myself the courage to speak up to a teacher, or to make myself walk on dangerous log crossings over gaps in the rocks at the beach, or to lower my feet to the floor at night to go to the bathroom, even though there was a monster under the bed. But this current monster was much bigger, and counting wasn’t enough to overcome these feelings of despair.

I recalled that creating ME collages in group therapy in the 1960’s had made me happy. I’d filled my collages with orange marigolds and hot yellow sunflowers, and these sunny flowers were meant to represent the inner me. So my new mantra became Marigolds and Sunflowers. I recited those two words in the morning when I woke up, dreading going out into the world. I chanted them as I drove my car to work, and as I parked and walked in. I said them when the black dogs of my depression closed in.

And then one day, I noticed I was happy. It happened as suddenly as my discontent with my young boyfriend had just a few months before. I was in my kitchen stir-frying something on the stove. A bottle of wine was chilling in the fridge, music was playing, and I had forgotten that it was a Saturday night and I was alone. The table and candles were all for me and I was happy.

I discovered that I loved living alone. I went back to university part-time, hosted casual dinner parties for friends. I dyed my hair pink and blue, loving the shock factor. Buyouts were offered to anyone at work with the right combination of age and years, and I took one. By the end of the year that I turned fifty I had my dream job, looked forward to going to work each day, had a great group of friends and a brand new bright red Volkswagen convertible. I had learned to get in touch with my feelings, to state my boundaries, to have healthier relationships and most of all know that I had value and liked myself and could exist very well on my own. I was on top of the world.

The year I turned fifty, I found myself. I am now in the final quarter of my life, or as I prefer to view it, halfway through the second half. I share my life with a man who makes me happy, but more importantly, I am living each day exploring my creative self and still following my dreams. The days are filled with possibilities, and I wake up most mornings full of excitement for the day ahead.

~Liz Maxwell Forbes

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